This site is intended for health professionals only

One in three GPs believe charges are most cost-effective way to cut unnecessary A&E attendances

A third of GPs would support charging patients a small fee every time they attended A&E and only refunding it if the visit was found to be necessary, according to a new survey.

The poll of more than 800 GPs by found 32% believe a charge of between £5 and £10 would be the most cost-effective way to reduce unnecessary attendances.

Some 39% said that placing a GP surgery with extended opening hours alongside every A&E department would help cut unnecessary attendances and hospital admissions, while 11% backed more walk-in centres and 8% called for an improved 111 service.

The results come after a Pulse survey conducted last summer found that half of GPs would support charging a small fee for routine GP appointments.

But the GPC and the RCGP were both quick to argue against the introduction of charges as a way of managing demand.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We will not solve the problem by penalising less well off patients by erecting financial barriers within the health service. It could be counterproductive as patients who are deterred from seeking medical attention at A&E may end up becoming more ill, requiring greater hospital care later on.’

‘Patients could also inappropriately seek treatment at their GP practice, even if they genuinely need hospital care. This could act as a perverse incentive that sends patients in the wrong direction for their care.’

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, an RCGP spokesperson and a GP in Lichfield, said: ‘The overwhelming majority of GPs still respect the founding principle of the NHS: that healthcare should be provided free at the point of need.’

‘Charging patients for the use of emergency departments would put us on the slippery slope towards the Americanisation of healthcare – where only those who can afford it get the care and attention they need. Doctors have a duty to provide healthcare to patients regardless of their ability to pay.’